Sheathed Swords and Bare Breastplates: The Nudity Imbalance on Television

Sheathed Swords and Bare Breastplates: The Nudity Imbalance on Television

posted in: Art, Blog, Body Image, Media | 0



by Tessie Riggs


Sex is a part of life, it can’t be denied. It’s literally how we come to exist. That being said it makes sense why sexuality and nudity are shown in television programs that (despite some taking place in fantasy worlds) try to engage their audiences by depicting situations, characters and emotions that feel real. However when depictions of sex and the human body become less about displaying interesting relationships and characters and more about cheap titillation used to keep an otherwise uninterested audience hooked, I’m a little less forgiving, particularly when the nudity is as one sided as it has become. Film theorist Laura Mulvey identified this phenomenon in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.  Laura points  out that the camera in film typically looks from the perspective of heterosexual males, focusing its viewpoint on the bodies of female characters. This idea of the “male gaze” has escalated significantly over the years: the male view no longer depicted as that of an average man seeing women on the street but a man with his eye to the peephole of a brothel.

Though depictions of nudity span multiple channels and programs I’m going to look at shows like Boardwalk Empire, The Tudors, Rome and The Borgias, with a specific focus on Game of Thrones. In my opinion, each series is guilty of an unfair, bare breast per capita ratio and what’s most irritating is that this is not balanced nudity where both male and female genitalia are shown as they would be during your typical heterosexual sex. Rather, nudity is shown seemingly with a heterosexual male audience in mind. This nudity necessitates that nearly every other scene takes place in a brothel, strip club or king’s boudoir where exposed breasts take up an overwhelming percentage of every frame. What’s more troubling is that the women attached to these breasts (actresses who seem to audition only with their bust and waist measurements) are rarely given lines, treated like furniture that’s sole purpose is to look good and fill up space. Male actors on the other hand are encouraged to keep their trousers on constantly, despite spending a great deal of time bed-bound with the aforementioned actresses. Their genitalia, when shown, is given poor lighting, lack of focus and brief screen-time rather than the centre stage spotlight the female body is given. An example of this imbalance is clearly shown with the Dothraki people in Game of Thrones. The Dothraki are a warrior race who are explicitly said to feel no shame at displaying their naked bodies and “make love under the stars for the whole khalasar to see”. Yet this khalasar has yet to see one unsheathed dothraki sword, whereas the bust of a great many dothraki women’s dresses seem to have been accidentally removed prior to filming.

What’s most insulting to me is that all these shows are political –  each one detailing the power dynamics of their given setting (Italy, Tudor-era England, Westeros, and 1920’s Atlantic City) and provides subtle commentary on what it takes to lead; intelligent subtextual conversations, complex strategies and the constant manipulations of both friends and foes. Despite these struggles that affect thousands of women, the female characters involved are rarely invited to the” grown up’s” table where the real business of life and work happen. When female characters are strong and powerful, their roles are sexualized whereas the mens are allowed the privacy of pants. The women are powerful and sexually attractive whereas the men can be just powerful. It’s not only implying that politics is a boys’ club but that shows about politics are for men only: women, of course not capable of understanding or caring about the power struggles that define our lives directly or indirectly. The insult doesn’t just extend to women. Female nudity in every frame of complex political dramas implies that heterosexual male viewers aren’t likely to pay attention to or purchase intelligent political dramas without some “bang” for their buck, so to speak.

rear view of a girl pointing remote to a televisionDon’t get me wrong I love these shows. The acting is amazing. The writing is intelligent and the sets are gorgeously elaborate. Which is why the Robin-Thicke level mindless female nudity really bores me. There is an argument for sexism being (sadly) historically accurate for period shows, but there’s no argument for men being completely clothed throughout all of recorded history while women are deprived of fabric.  I’m not suggesting all nudity be stricken from these shows; it’s just not realistic.
But at the very least nudity needs to become more equalized, where men and women’s bodies are shown in equal amount and in pursuit of showing real relationships rather than just eye candy.

Speaking as a female viewer the practice is not only demeaning but has, through constant repetition, made the female body intensely boring. Now when a naked woman comes onscreen I declare it safe to leave the couch for a bathroom break. It’s not like I’m missing anything important.







astute radio pic

Tessie Riggs

I’m a white girl who was born and raised in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world (Toronto) and now am getting an even larger picture of the world. As far back as I can remember my parents would read to me everyday and planted a seed of bibliomania, the growth of which I don’t think even they could have predicted. I love books (the idea of carrying around another dimension in your pocket, to be peeked in and out of at your leisure) and thusly find myself in a major that I’m told laughingly will not in a million years land me gainful employment (English). As for beliefs, I believe that a sense of humour is essential in living one’s life, because if you can’t laugh you just might have to cry.



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